Chicken with Mushrooms and Marsala

April 11, 2017

We call ourselves the weird disease couple. I mean, how many people do you know who can say they host both neuromuscular and collagen disease under one roof? People, we are messed up and we’re proud. Well, we try to be.

(Your intrepid couple. Two weeks ago, they took it to the bridge.)

As you might imagine, being a weird disease couple makes for thrill-packed life. Each day–and night–brings heretofore unforeseen challenges.

Say the wind kicks up, as it did last Thursday night. We’re not talking a slight breeze. Think power failure windy. Now, because we’re special, our power meter has a sticker bearing the Rod of Asclepius: Yo! Special People Over Here! Who Really Need Mr. Electron!

The thing is, priority power reinstatement doesn’t carry much weight if the entire city is dark. Yes, we got priority–eight hours later. By that time, Mr. IK had spent a night without his AVAPS, or Average Volume Assured Pressure Support. Which he kinda needs to breathe, because he has sleep apnea. Because he is one half of the weird disease couple.

Friday morning saw a decidedly pale Mr. IK declaring himself headachy and nauseated. He then demonstrated his symptoms. I will leave this to your imagination, instead offering you this pretty colorful picture. I had a lovely chat with the fellow in shot, too.

Once the crisis had passed, I asked Mr. IK how his equally non-breathing friends coped during power failures. Querying emails were sent, whereupon we learned of the existence of backup battery packs.

Why pulmonologists or breathing equipment vendors never suggest acquiring such items is beyond me. Why is it left to patients–or their vomit-mopping caregivers–to figure these things out?

Granted, this is no kind of segue into chicken with marsala and mushrooms (which Mr. IK, helpfully seated just behind me, ice-packed, soda’d, and be-crackered, deems an acceptable title. “The sauce is implied.” He says.) but here we are. Life these days is random indeed. Smooth segues are in short supply, having gone the way of the EPA, compassion for refugees, and FM Radio.

I could go on. But you’re here to read about chicken with Marsala and mushrooms.

Now, Mr. IK adores all fungi, and until recently, was the only consumer of any and all mushrooms entering the IK. But tastes change. While not the mushroom fanatic my spouse is, I’ve recently become more interested in them.

While exotic fungi are grand, so are their prices. Plain brown or white mushrooms work well here–no need to blow lots on exotic varieties. Wipe any dirt off with dampened paper towels, as soaking mushrooms means waterlogging. We don’t want that.

Mushrooms give off tremendous amounts of liquid while cooking, so you need to drive off some of that liquid. Start them in the pan first. For a while it will seem like nothing is happening. Then, all at once, the mushrooms will surrender lots of liquid. Crank up the heat so the water can evaporate. Now you’re in business. Add the chicken and Marsala. The dish is almost done.

A quick note about the shallot: while the outer parts looked tattered, judicious peeling led to perfectly useful innards. Shallots are not cheap.

The chicken here is boneless, skinless breast meat, which cookery writers will tell you is the worst way to buy chicken. Usually they’re right. But once in a while boneless, skinless breast is the right cut. Like now. But raw chicken makes for ugly pictures. So I didn’t take one.

Some cooks remove the chicken tenders, invariably adding a maddeningly vague instruction to “reserve for another dish.” Such as?  By the time you’ve frozen enough tenders even to make dinner two people–assuming you can remember you’ve got such a thing in your freezer–they’ve become dessicated, crystallized yellow yucks.

Me, I say leave ’em on.

Much better looking than a chicken tender.

I used two tablespoons créme fraÏche and half a lemon for the sauce, arriving at that amount via tasting the Judy Rodgers way: spoon some cooking juices into a small bowl:

Now add flavorings and taste:

And stop using so many colons. Don’t you remember a damned thing from Warriner’s English Grammar? 

My chicken breast were ginormous–almost two pounds total, meaning what should’ve been a stove-top recipe went rogue, refusing to cook through. Instead, the chicken smirked up at me. “Cooking for the blog, are ya?”

Well, alllrighty. The chicken didn’t really smirk.  But plans changed. In life so they often do.  Into a 300F oven those recalcitrant birds went. Twenty-five minutes later:

Chicken With Mushrooms And Marsala

Yield: 2-3 Servings

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts; ideally no more than one pound, total (see notes about size)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons sweet butter

lobe of 1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 pound brown or white mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp cloth and finely sliced

1/2-1 cup Marsala

about 2 tablespoons créme fraïche (to taste), homemade or commercially purchased

fresh lemon juice, to taste

salt and pepper

See Notes for preparing this dish in the oven.

In large, heavy sauté or frying pan with a lid, heat the butter and olive oil together. I used a Staub “Everyday” pan, which is 4 quarts.

Once the butter is melted, add the shallot and garlic. Stir, cooking gently for about 3 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Turn down heat if necessary.

Add the mushrooms, stirring to coat with oil and butter. If the pan is dry, add a little more oil. This will take 5-10 minutes, but the mushrooms will give up a lot of moisture. Keep the heat low, stirring often. When the mushrooms start giving off liquid, turn the heat up a bit to encourage evaporation. This is the longest part of cooking this dish, so be patient.

Once the liquid has mostly cooked away, add the chicken and pour over the Marsala. The wine should come about 1/4 a way up the chicken; the amount you’ll need depends on the size of your pan. Err on the side of more rather than less. Salt and pepper generously. Set the heat to a gentle simmer, cover the pan and cook, turning the chicken after about five minutes. Give it a gentle stir as well.

Depending on how large the chicken pieces are, the dish will be cooked through in 10-15 minutes. Chicken is done with juices run clear and there is no evidence of pink meat.

Turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Ladle some cooking juices into a small bowl or measuring cup. Add some lemon juice and créme fraïche, tasting. Some people like a tart dish, others a creamier version. If you’re unsure about doing this in small bowls, add small amounts to the larger dish until it tastes balanced to you. Taste for salt and pepper as well.

Serve immediately with pasta, green salad and good bread to mop up the sauce.

Refrigeration/Freezing: surprisingly, Chicken with Mushrooms And Marsala improved with time, holding beautifully in the refrigerator for three days. I say surprisingly as chicken generally doesn’t keep well. The creamy sauce means it likely would not freeze well, with the mushrooms going limp and the sauce losing flavor.

Notes: Ideally your chicken breasts are small enough to prepare the dish stovetop. If your chicken breasts are larger, preheat the oven to 300F.  Once the mushrooms are cooked, add the breasts to the pan and pop the dish into oven for 20-25 minutes, covered. Check after ten minutes: you may need to turn to chicken over or add a little more Marsala.

If you don’t have créme fraïche, you could substitute heavy cream, milk, sour cream, or half-and-half. Take care to keep the pan sauces below the boiling point, so the sauce does not break.